HELENA - Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg released draft legislation Thursday that would prohibit treating gray wolves in Montana and Idaho as endangered species and turn management of them exclusively over to the states.

The brief, two-page draft is meant to be a starting point for legislation that he hopes to present to the House of Representatives soon.

"After hearing from Montanans at my listening sessions around the state, I've taken a first step by having a draft bill drawn up, but before I introduce it, it's important to hear what Montanans think," Rehberg said in a news release. "Since it hasn't been introduced, I can still make changes if I hear a good idea, or even if folks in Montana tell me they just don't want a legislative solution after all."

Both of Montana's senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, also are working on draft legislation regarding wolf management, and expect to have something ready by next week.

Wolves in Montana and Idaho were removed from the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act most recently in 2009, but not in Wyoming since the state doesn't have a federally approved wolf management plan.

They were returned to the list in all three states after an Aug. 5 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula. He said that in his opinion, Congress didn't intend to allow wolves to be listed as endangered species in one state but not in adjacent states. That decision ended wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana that were meant to keep the wolf population in check.

Since that decision, state officials, including Montana's congressional delegation, have scrambled to come up with a variety of ways that would allow a wolf hunt to continue.

The northern Rockies are home to about 1,700 gray wolves, which is more than five times the previously set federal benchmark of 300 wolves for them to be considered a recovered species and removed from federal protection.

Helena Independent Record reporter Eve Byron can be reached at (406) 447-4076 or at eve.byron@helenair.com.

 

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